Chapter 11: ‘Over the Edge,’ a serial novelMore Info
Patricia Feinstein’s head was spinning and she sat in silence for many minutes after her strange guests had departed. Though a drama major, she had always had a propensity for the logical and found her nerves were significantly calmed by organizing things in lists or rows or columns.
With the unsteadiness of a sleepwalker, Patricia rummaged through the untidy stacks of things, which two days ago had dictated her life — scripts for class, her organized homework planner, a book or two — but now they had no bearing or importance whatsoever, until she found what she was looking for: a tidy notebook marked PRIVATE in bold capital letters. Patricia had purchased this notebook in Switzerland, on one of the rare occasions that the girls in school were allowed out of the formidable castle-like building in which they spent their days listening to women who had perfected the art of not mattering and looking good doing it.
Before opening the thick, leather-bound volume, which was nearly full of lists and bullet points of all the things Patricia was confused by or hated — her little way to organize the chaos — she thought back to the day she bought the notebook.
It was winter, although that temperate region of Switzerland was far warmer than home ever was, so to call it winter was rather generous, and the girls had been let out for a holiday adventure into the small town that lay below their drafty castle. Patricia had been ecstatic for the chance to explore; she was a naturally curious girl, and although she was enjoying finishing school, it was beginning to dawn on her that while she performed the activities and routines with a sense of irony, the girls around her were completely devoted to it. Well, except for Essie, the gorgeous, tall, blonde girl by whom Patricia was unreasonably intimidated. Essie seemed to exist in a different world than the rest of them, a world even Patricia, who considered herself a little more self-aware and personable than the other girls, couldn’t penetrate.
That day, when all classes had been canceled and the girls sent into the small Hogsmeade-esque town (Patricia fondly remembered rereading Harry Potter during that winter and drawing innumerable parallels between her classmates’ trip and the students of Hogwarts visiting the wintry town of Hogsmeade), was one of the best Patricia had had at finishing school. They were completely free for a full twelve hours, and she relished the opportunity to get away from the stuffy environment. The day had been full of hot chocolate, homemade candy, and a feeling of belonging Patricia had been craving for months.
Outside, a car rushed down her road, and Patricia was brought unhappily back to reality, to the notebook clutched in her hand. Reality again was crashing down upon her. She still had the thumb drive clutched in her hand, but couldn’t bring herself to plug it in yet. Instead, she hazily found a pen and began to write what she had already learned:
- Essie = Esmerelda = Natalia = A SPY
- Professor Toma = NOT REAL = Fyodor?!?!? ALSO A SPY
- Adam = bad guy #YIKES
- Everyone is a spy?
- Everything I know is a lie
As she wrote, Patricia’s breathing steadied, and after the first six bullet points, she paused to reflect. The sixth held her gaze and she mulled the words over to herself before saying them aloud into her empty bedroom,
“Everything I know is a lie.” It felt cathartic.
“EVERYTHING I KNOW IS A LIE!” she yelled it. Nothing responded — which was good; Patricia didn’t think she could handle another surprise right now.
Everything I know is a lie. That’s cool. That’s super cool. That’s great, I mean it’s just fantastic. Sarcasm had always been a refuge.
The reality of the situation she found herself in began to dawn on her, and as her breathing began to quicken again, Patricia felt everything grow warm and see bright spots of light dance in her vision —her telltale sign that a panic attack was approaching. She wrung her hands nervously and tried to remember what she had been taught about calming her own nerves.
It was away at school in Switzerland where Patricia had first been acquainted with the feeling of suffocating in a black cloud of panic. It was the first time she had been away from home for a significant amount of time, and she was very unsure of the world she was in. It was Essie — no, Natalia, Patricia reminded herself — who had taught her how to do square breathing and count backward from 1,000 by sevens when she felt the cocoon of terror beginning to wrap its snaky tendrils around her mind.
Finishing school, Patricia was beginning to realize, was yet another element of the insane web of lies that had become her life. Back then, the teenage Patricia did not realize that some elements of the school were unconventional, to say the least. It was almost funny now, she thought to herself, that she had not realized that self-defense classes and lectures on how to identify whether or not your food was poisoned were not traditional elements of a school for high-society young ladies, but rather elements of a school whose real mission was to teach the children of influential and important people how to protect themselves from the evil that was bound, someday, to come looking for them.
Patricia had never understood her parents’ jobs, which brought them to remote countries and shady locations. They didn’t speak of it much, but Patricia now realized they must somehow be connected to the world that Natalia, Patricia’s ex-professor, and that other guy were from. The room began to spin.
Jesus, if I didn’t have a headache before…Patricia thought, and she plugged the thumb drive into her computer, trepidatious but ready for whatever other secrets she was about to learn. This was an adventure, she realized, unlike any she had had before; it paralleled the lives of characters she played and books she read, but it was real, and after she saw whatever she was about to see, there was no going back. Patricia took a deep breath and began to read.
* * *
Along the side of the road, Cynthia Curry was laughing for the first time in a very long while. Rigoberto, the driver, was lying back in the limo, his eyes closed, a pair of sunglasses pushed up on his forehead. Behind her, Mateo had just sped off into goodness-knows-where, leaving her at the intersection of jungle and road. Cynthia had no reason to laugh at any of this. In fact, by any logical estimation, she should be in some sort of panic, this being, by far, the weirdest string of days she had ever had. But she was laughing, the ridiculous sort of laughter that’s endearing when it’s two friends together but kind of creepy when it’s one person by herself, alone, in a foreign country. She was doubled over against the car, wheezing for breath, when she realized Rigoberto, usually alert and ready for anything, hadn’t woken up yet, despite the fact that her laughter was disturbingly loud.
As quickly as the bout of giggles had overcome her, it was gone, and in its place, a cold fear began to creep over her. She hit the window of the limo, and Rigoberto did not respond. She banged on the window with two fists, and Rigoberto did not respond. She ran around to his side of the car and tried desperately to open the door, making quite a racket in the process, and Rigoberto did not respond.
Then Cynthia looked at him, properly looked him up and down, and that was when she noticed the dart sticking out of his neck. The cold fear that had been wrapping its tendrils around her heart and climbing outwards subsumed her entire body, and she nearly collapsed to the ground.
“He’s not dead, just unconscious.” A gruff, male voice behind her said, and Cynthia stiffened in fear, her fight-or-flight instincts coming to life. Cynthia had never been in a life or death situation before and didn’t really like the idea of being in one now. She had no fighting skills; she couldn’t defend herself. In fact, come to think of it, her fear was so paralyzing that she couldn’t really move.
This is the end, she thought.
“Ms. Curry, you’re going to have to come with us.” This time the voice was female. Slowly, like a comic double take in an action comedy movie, Cynthia turned around to see a man and woman in matching black outfits with small white earpieces coiling out of their ears. If she hadn’t been so frightened, Cynthia would have been impressed.
“We’re Alexander and Sophia Feinstein, and we have some questions for you about a man you probably know as Zain Toma and his two accomplices.”
(To the continued)